Watson looks to crack the digital marketing spend code

IBM Watson
IBM has announced a new advertising division that leverages Watson. (IBM)

To “kick start the era of cognitive advertising,” IBM launched the Watson Advertising division to offer artificial intelligence products for data analysis, media planning, content creation and audience targeting, according to Adweek.

The division integrates technology from The Weather Company’s WeatherFx and JourneyFx forecasting features with all the data at IBM’s disposal, the article stated. The company, acquired IBM last year, has been working toward the advertising field using Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence service.

The division has four units. The flagship studies audience targeting and will use Watson to analyze data and score users based on how likely they are to take an action such as buying a product, watching a video or visiting a website, the article stated. Another unit will use AI for real-time optimization, while Watson Ads, a third unit, will build on a year-old service focused on content creation. For example, Toyota used Watson to copywrite messages for its Mirai model based on technology and science fans’ interests, the article stated.

“The Watson Ad opportunity is an exciting first-to-market idea that advances our learning opportunities in the AI space,” Eunice Kim, a media planner for Toyota Motor North America, told Adweek.

Other companies have used Watson for ads, too, according to the article:

  • It promoted Theraflu while answering questions about flu symptoms.
  • It personalized recipes in display ads using data about consumers’ locations and what ingredients they had on hand for Campbell’s.
  • It used an AI smart assistant to help H&R Block clients find tax deductions.

AI promises to be the next big thing, Watson Chief Marketing Officer Jordan Bitterman told Adweek. Revenue from AI services worldwide will grow from $2.4 billion this year to $4.1 billion next year, and to $59.8 billion in 2025, Statista data showed.

Not everyone is sold on Watson, however. Some AI experts said the brand is overhyped, and financial analysts such as James Kisner of Jeffries said that Amazon and Apple are posting more AI job opportunities than IBM. What’s more, he “found that Watson tends to be more expensive than many other AI platforms in the market,” according to the article.

“Watson is what we call a picky eater,” Kisner said in the article. “So they have to prepare all this data before they analyze it and people are finding that the price tag to do that is very high.”

Other companies are getting in the AI game, too. Salesforce has Einstein, Adobe has Sensei and Facebook announced plans to open an AI research office in Montreal. Smaller businesses are competing for a piece of the AI pie also. Amenity Analytics says it can provide Watson-type services at one-fifth to one-tenth the cost, according to Adweek.

Cameron Clayton, general manager of IBM Watson’s Content and Internet of Things Platform, isn’t worried about getting passed by market newcomers, though. “Time to learn matters. AI systems or cognitive systems learn kind of like children. You have to teach them the basics, the foundational elements, and that takes time,” he said in the article. “And Watson has been at this for a while: Watson’s almost a teenager, whereas some of these systems are very new and are still learning.”